In January of this year, in the same Pakistani town of Abbottabad where Osama bin Laden met his demise, a senior Indonesian militant named Umar Patek was arrested. One of the leaders of the al-Qaeda-linked Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), Patek is believed to have helped coordinate the 2002 bombings on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, which killed 202 people. Since then, Indonesian authorities had tracked down nearly all of the major Islamic extremists associated with that terror attack. Deemed Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist, Patek, like bin Laden, had been on the run for nearly a decade.
Indonesian authorities are currently negotiating with their Pakistani counterparts to have Patek extradited back home. The Indonesian’s wanted poster shows a gaunt man with bushy hair and beard, a camouflage-printed cap on his head. An ethnic Arab native of the Indonesian island of Java, he embodied a militancy that ran counter to the moderate, syncretic form of Islam largely practiced in Indonesia. But homegrown radicals, some of whom want to establish a region-wide caliphate, have managed to carry out a series of religiously inspired attacks across the country, with bombs targeting nightclubs, hotels, restaurants and the Australian embassy in capital Jakarta, among others.Even as Indonesians celebrated Patek’s arrest, which was only announced in late March, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono warned of “a radicalization movement in this nation with religious and ideological motives.” Although a moderate himself and a proponent of the country’s prodigious efforts to nab and kill terror suspects, Yudhoyono has been criticized for allowing faith-based sentiment to flourish during his two terms in office. Terror attacks have also stepped up recently. Last month, some 30 people were injured when a suicide bomber detonated his deadly charge at a mosque located inside a police compound. Separately, Indonesian counter-terrorism officials announced that they had foiled a massive bomb that would have targeted a church ahead of Easter holidays. In recent weeks, bombs hidden in books have also been mailed to various prominent Indonesians, ranging from a former counter-terror chief to a liberal Muslim academic. None have managed to kill their targets.
Although Indonesian authorities have tied the book bombs to JI, a report released last month by the International Crisis Group cautioned of a rise in Indonesia of “‘individual jihad’ aimed at local targets undertaken by small groups acting independently of large jihadi organizations.” The watchdog’s analysis put in worrying context a world in which groups like JI or al-Qaeda are no longer needed to coordinate violence. Now, with bin Laden dead and concerns of retaliatory killings mounting, Indonesia has raised its terror alert. Given its bomb-strewn recent history, the world’s most populous Muslim majority nation has good reason to be alarmed.